Justin Brownlee, CJ Perez and Ange Kouame ensured Gilas Pilipinas' Asian Games campaign got off to a rousing start, leading the Philippines to a 89-61 thrashing of Bahrain Tuesday afternoon in Hangzhou.
Brownlee led the way with 20 points despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter, while Perez and Kouame added 15 apiece for the retooled Gilas. It was an encouraging win for Gilas following days of drama back home surrounding the final team composition. The Philippines is attempting to win its first Asian Games basketball medal in 25 years.
Rival Thailand is next
Gilas plays next on Thursday when they take on Southeast Asian rivals Thailand, which were blown out by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jordan, 97-63, in the other Group C game. Thailand, bronze medalists in the recent Southeast Asian Games, were led by Thai-Americans Frederick Lish and Tyler Lamb, who scored 13 and 11 points respectively but combined to shoot just 9-of-33.
Lamb, though, has always seemed to elevate his game when he plays the Philippines, so it would be interesting to see who covers him.
If Gilas can put this one away early, it would give coach Tim Cone more time to further integrate the new players into his system in preparation for what is expected to be a tough battle for Group C leadership against Jordan on Saturday.
Gilas under Tim Cone
Cone started Chris Newsome, Brownlee, June Mar Fajardo, Calvin Oftana, and Scottie Thompson, with Perez and Japeth Aguilar the first players off the bench. Kouame was the last to play, entering midway through the second quarter. Newsome and Oftana were the last cuts from the World Cup squad.
Cone has mellowed over the last few years, but against Bahrain it felt like he was coaching Alaska again in the 1990s as he was heard several times on the broadcast admonishing his team to do better on the court. Additionally, the team ran a couple of his plays out of the triangle offense, with a big man receiving the ball at the top of the key and a cutter on either side receiving a pass and taking it to the hole.
It was also evident that he wanted to give extra run time to the five new players on the team -- Perez, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Ross, Kevin Alas and Arvin Tolentino all got minutes in the fourth quarter with the outcome already decided.
The naturalized connection
Thanks to more relaxed eligibility rules, one subplot of this Gilas team has been the presence of two naturalized players in Brownlee and Kouame. Both players bring separate skills to the team, which were on full display against Bahrain.
Brownlee provided offense from the perimeter and in transition, while Kouame asserted himself in the post on both ends. With no legitimate big men, Bahrain was forced to foul a lot, and between them they shot a combined 12-of-15 from the stripe.
Cone also used a lineup with big men Fajardo and Kouame down low. Fajardo posted up against a smaller defender and Kouame crashed the weakside. Having both behemoths on the court at the same time did not clog up the lane as both knew when to get out of the way.
Bahrain lets it rain, but gets little from Wayne
Bahrain lived and died by the three, taking a whopping 38 attempts from beyond the arc and converting 12, compared to 7-of-21 for Gilas. But they only shot 7-of-26 on 2-point shots, while Gilas went 23-of-44. A few of those made triples were of the Hail Mary variety, and without them the final winning margin would have been much wider.
Bahrain's naturalized player, former PBA import Wayne Chism, has clearly seen better days. He looked nothing like the player who won Best Import in 2014, taking just six attempts and finishing with only five points. He rarely asked for the ball and was content to grab rebounds.
Instead, Bahrain drew its offense from an entertaining troika of guards - brothers Ali and Mustapha Rashed and Maitham Jameel Almoathin, whose jersey bore the letters "MJ" on the back. All three loved to hoist it from outside, and together they shot 8-of-27 from beyond the arc and combined for 39 of Bahrain's 61 points.